by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Reams of copy have been written by reporters about Hillary’s lack of warmth, her secrecy, and her belief in hand-to-hand political combat. But what seems to bug voters I speak with is the sense that she is mostly a pure political animal. New York magazine reported that “in the Senate, [her Democratic colleague] Chuck Schumer used to tell aides that Clinton was ‘the most opaque person you’ll ever meet in your life.’” He would then add, “If [I’d] lived her life, I’d be that way, too.”
But the life she and Bill Clinton have led includes a degree of ambition and tactical ruthlessness that is remarkable even by Chuck Schumer’s standards. Jeff Gerth and Don Van Atta, two Pulitzer Prize winners formerly with the New York Times, wrote in their 2007 biography of Hillary, Her Way, that in the early 1970s, she and Bill had “made a secret pact of ambition.” They would “embark on a political partnership with two staggering goals: revolutionize the Democratic party and, at the same time, capture the presidency for Bill,” they wrote. “They called it their ‘twenty-year project.’” Indeed it took them only two decades until Bill was elected in 1992. “Once their ‘20-year project’ was realized, their plan became even more ambitious: eight years as president for him, then eight years for her. Their audacious pact has remained a secret until now.”
Apologists for the Clintons have attacked Gerth and Van Atta’s account, noting that their source for the his-and-hers White House plan is former New York Times reporter Ann Crittenden and her husband. They in turn heard it from historian Taylor Branch, a friend of the Clintons. After Her Way appeared, Branch reversed an earlier statement he had made to one of its authors, saying “I don’t remember” the conversation about a pact. But “I’m not denying it,” he also stated. When contacted by the Washington Post in March 2007, Branch said, “I never heard either Clinton talk about a ‘plan’ for them both to become president.”
But the accuracy of their original “20-year project” citation hasn’t been challenged. Gerth and Van Atta say their source was none other than Bill Clinton’s White House chief of staff, Leon Panetta, who heard about the “project” from Bill Clinton himself on Air Force One in 1996. Clinton “allegedly told Panetta that’s why they relied on people like adviser Dick Morris, who has since become an outspoken Clinton basher,” ABC News reported in June 2007. “According to the authors, Clinton told Panetta that ‘you had to hear from the dark side,’ referring to Morris, and ‘we had to do what we had to do.’” Leon Panetta has never altered his on-the-record account.